Thursday, April 26, 2012

worth remembering

 It has been a long journey for me, trying to understand what – if anything – ANZAC day could possibly mean.

My [step]grandfather fought in France during World War I, and was gassed. I don’t remember a time when he was not either languishing in the Repat Hospital at Heidelberg, or sitting in his favourite chair at home, coughing and spitting.
How could I not have a strong stomach when I spent years cleaning up what you do not need to hear described?

After my first impression – war is cruel – came a second, stronger impression: War is stupid. If I applaud Archbishop Mannix’s insistence that the first war was not a working-man’s war but an Imperial squabble, it is not because I identify as an Irish Catholic, but because he was right. It was a particularly stupid, unjustifiable and disgusting war, as wars go.
How privileged am I, though, living in a country where people had the right to openly debate the rights and wrongs of a war. In other, more ‘advanced’ western democracies, people were jailed for speaking against this war. 
And how grateful I am, still, that we still have the right to speak.

The Second World War is easier to accept as one which had some point. Britain’s ostensible excuse for joining in was to save Poland from Nazi occupation, but of course, the war was inevitable for many reasons. In any event, Poland got the booby prize at war’s end, and passed from Hitler’s control to the control of an equally disgusting Dictator.
The Second World War was just as cruel and stupid as the first but, in the long run, it’s easier to accept that my country was involved.

As my brother sweated blood about the possibility of being conscripted during the Vietnam War, it was hard for me to see Anzac Day as a positive sort of anything, let alone celebration.

With each successive military involvement, I have to ask myself if we should be involved at all. I don’t always agree that we should, but I respect those who volunteer to go, because they go on my behalf.

Bruce Ruxton, who recently passed away, was a tireless worker for returned servicemen, but in the 1960s and 70s, during an era of sweeping social changes, all many of us could see was a poisonous mixture of racism and sexism whenever he had our attention.

The marches, years ago, were far from inspiring. Grandfather watched them on the TV every year, from start to finish – no mean feat for someone who never glanced at the TV for so much as a second from one day to the next. Off screen, there was a great deal of drunkenness and gambling and I’ve never had one good reason to be impressed by drunks.
Of course, this was the return of the repressed in action. When people with post traumatic stress disorder revisit their demons, they re-experience them with the same intensity and horror they experienced the first time they met those demons.

It took me a very long time to understand that no one ever spoke about war because there is no way to explain the indescribable. 
Two comrades who had nothing in common beyond their involvement in a war were joined forever at the hip because they both knew the other knew what they were feeling. I suspect ‘mateship’ is a good name for it.

War touches everyone, some more than others, but we are all diminished to some degree by every conflict: I’m diminished by what is happening in Afghanistan as I sit typing away in my ivory tower.

It took a disgracefully long time for anyone to acknowledge that, as much as the soldiers, the people who tend the wounded and dying – many of whom were traditionally female nurses – never escape the consequences of war.
It took an obscenely longer time for anyone to acknowledge the contribution made by indigenous servicemen.

This guy lives at the Shepparton RSL
He doesn't carry a gun, he's just taking a break

Australia's acknowledgement and understanding of the nature of war is now a more mature and honest one than it was when I was younger, and the marches are now more inclusive than the White [male] versions I sat through with Grandfather.

I’m okay with it, now, that Anzac Day is growing in significance as an important day in Australia.

ANZAC day is not an important day for Australia because “we” were honorary Poms, but because the ANZACS went to war as British citizens, and [if they were lucky] returned home as Australians and New Zealanders.

Tonight I must finally give in, and give Julia Gillard credit for saying something worth saying.
Here is the full text of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's dawn-service speech at Anzac Cove today, [stolen, with thanks, from The Age Newspaper].

They were strangers in a strange land.
Men who came from "the ends of the earth" in an enterprise of hope to end a far-off, dreadful war.
But it was not to be.
Even at dawn, the shadows were already falling over this fate-filled day.
Here on these beaches and hills, so foreign and yet so familiar, a skilled enemy lay in wait, led by a man destined to become a great leader.
A world of war was described in the mortal struggles of a million men on the narrow confines of this peninsula.
For the allies, this was a battle of nations fought by great powers and the might of their empires for a wider strategic goal.
For the Turks, this was a defence of the soil and sanctity of home, for which Ataturk ordered his men not only to attack but to die.
And the men who fought here from our nation, our allies and from Turkey did die – terrible deaths that spared no age or rank or display of courage.
Over 130,000 men gave their lives in this place, two-thirds of them on the Turkish side and 8700 from Australia.
So this is a place hallowed by sacrifice and loss.
It is, too, a place shining with honour – and honour of the most vivid kind.
A place where foes met in equality and respect, and attained a certain nobility through their character and conduct.
Eight months later, this campaign ended as it had begun – at dawn.
At 3.57 on December 20, 1915, the last Diggers quietly slipped away.
They did not begrudge the victory of their enemy, which was hard-fought and deserved.
They did share a regret greater than any defeat – having to leave their mates behind.
So the Australian and New Zealand commander, General Godley, left a message asking the Ottoman forces to respect the Anzac graves.
But no such invitation was required.
The Turkish honoured our fallen and embraced them as their own sons.
And later they did something rare in the pages of history – they named this place in honour of the vanquished as Anzac Cove.
We therefore owe the Republic of Turkey a profound debt.
No nation could have better guarded our shrines or more generously welcomed our pilgrims.
A worthy foe has proved to be an even greater friend.
Through Turkey's hospitality, we do today what those who left these shores most dearly hoped:
We come back.
As we will always come back.
To give the best and only gift that can matter anymore – our remembrance.
We remember what the Anzacs did in war.
And for what they did to shape our nation in peace.
In this place, they taught us to regard Australia and nowhere else as home.
Here where they longed for the shape and scent of the gum leaf and the wattle, not the rose or the elm.
Where they remembered places called Weipa and Woolloomooloo, Toowoomba and Swan Hill.
Or the sight of Mt Clarence as their ships pulled away from Albany, for so many the last piece of Australian soil they would ever live to see.
This is the legend of Anzac, and it belongs to every Australian.
Not just those who trace their origins to the early settlers but those like me who are migrants and who freely embrace the whole of the Australian story as their own.
For Indigenous Australians, whose own wartime valour was a profound expression of the love they felt for the ancient land.
And for Turkish-Australians who have not one but two heroic stories to tell their children.
All of us remember, because all of us inhabit the freedom the Anzacs won for us.
These citizen-soldiers, who came here untested and unknown, and who "founded a deathless monument of valour" through the immensity of their sacrifice.
This dawn will turn to darkness at the ending of today.
But the sun will never set on the story of their deeds.
Now and for all time, we will remember them.
Lest We Forget.

Friday, April 20, 2012

tv or not tv

In a comment on my previous post, DianeB made a good point about the media’s negative focus: No surprise media focus is negative, but this negativity is unfair to good people in general – and it offers no encouragement or role models to young people in particular.

Modern TV is, let’s face it, mostly crap. It reminds me a little of modern democracy; we get neither the government nor the entertainment we deserve.

Reality TV is cheap to produce. I did watch about an hour of Big Brother once, and it was just about the most tedious and unrewarding hour of my life.

Even pay TV is constantly interrupted by ads. In exchange for our money and time we get to choose from a whole basked of goodies including rubbish about celebrity interventions; shock horror docos about child pageants or extreme plastic surgery [or both]; extremely stupid and dysfunctional people going to “court”; and that modern version of the morality play –the “talk” shows which feature people with fetishes for things like collecting bits of toe-jam.


The government was desperate to get TV up and running here in time for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, but were terrified this would come at a very high cost: We would become a nation of zombies whose brains were filled with misinformation or filth.
A fixed portion of all viewing on commercial channels had to be “Australian Content”. Sunday morning programs had to be religious or educational.
Well, now that the Australian Content requirements have been lifted, have Prime Minister Ming’s worst fears been realised?

Perhaps it’s karma - payback for all the years I’ve spent relentlessly taking the piss out of early Aussie TV - but now we really are offered Hobson’s Choice.
On offer is a bunch of lowest common denominator shows, all competing with each other to see who can sink lower.

In the past I have failed to give credit where it is due, but I’m now ready to rectify that error. There was a time when people watched and enjoyed shows that celebrated kindness, saw the hero in ordinary people, rewarded heroes, and helped battlers.

It Could Be You, according to one internet article [who cares if it’s right?] was the highest rating show ever on Australian TV. Beginning in 1960, it featured an American living in Oz whose name was Tommy Hanlon Jr.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

f*** off we're full

The first time I saw one of these bumper stickers I was stunned. Where does all this venom come from?
These seem to have popped up at the time both major political parties were using asylum seekers as a whipping boy. It might also be fair to say I saw it in a ‘most-likely-to-have-rednecks’ suburb. Thankfully, I’ve only ever seen them on about 4 different cars in as many years.

Does it reflect racism of the ‘every non-Anglo is scum’ variety, or is it simply an anti-immigration message?

The truth is Australia is, in a manner of speaking, full. Compared to other countries – developed or otherwise – we have an extremely low population density. We also have an extremely limited pool of natural resources.

Australia is not the driest continent on earth, that privilege belongs to Antarctica, but we do run a very close second. Despite its total land area, only a very small proportion of Australia is arable, or what most Westerners would call habitable, land.

Unless someone actually does some proper planning, we cannot absorb too many of the world’s 12 million displaced people without suffering a substantial reduction in our own standards of living. If we fling the gates wide open and place no restrictions on immigration, our population will eventually stabilise at a level where we are only marginally better off than those already living in displaced person camps elsewhere in the world.

We can benefit from some growth if that growth is properly planned, resulting in a win-win situation. With the current paucity of leadership or good government I doubt we could do this properly. The infrastructure we have is inadequate, falling into disrepair, and being steadily sold off to private enterprise.

The ‘go away we’re full’ sticker is so thought provoking I could go off on a thousand tangents, but I remember now which tangent I was originally planning to follow: Who or what is an Australian?

I would be a liar if I did not say that a sudden influx of Asians in the 70s didn’t shock me; or a sudden increase in the number of people from the Indian subcontinent; or a marked increase in the number of people who probably visit mosques more than the Westernised Muslims who've been here from the beginning.
I grew up in a white [or red haired/freckled skin] world.

I really do not care what people look like – unless they’ve got filthy fingernails, or their face looks like a bulldog’s collar.

A different physical appearance is simply a visual reminder to me that change is happening. 
I’m not totally resistant to change, but I would like some reassurance about what form that change might take. I’d like some reassurance that if the changes will be horrible I’ll be dead before they happen.

I’d like people to be a little freer to discuss important issues without being cut off by pc Nazis.

The other night on the train I was watching a half a dozen Caucasian gentleman playing their nightly game of 500. 
At some stop near Franger a bunch of Caucasian kids boarded the train. I’d say the youngest was about 14 and the oldest 16 or 17. They were dressed in a manner that betrayed no sense of any sort of style which, at the very least, Goths or Punks usually display. They were obnoxious potty-mouths, openly guzzling alcohol and were already drunk or under the influence of drugs [or both].

The chap that keeps the scores for the card game said to one young lady “Would you mind putting your cigarette out, please?” He was older, neater, and probably a CEO or close to it, and exuded authority.
The girl that was smoking replied “Would you mind getting fucked, please?”

At Frankston the Police were waiting and used the under-aged drinking problem as an excuse to instantly put pressure on them. As I passed through the turnstile, I saw the smoker, in handcuffs, being frogmarched down the ramp and, although she was separated from her friends, she still wouldn’t let go of her tough persona.

Continuing towards my car, I recalled another passenger’s automatic reaction had been "They should be at home with their parents” and wondered what on earth would be the point? I know parents take an inordinate amount of blame for the sins of wilful children, but I suspect home is where it had all started to go wrong a long time ago.

Where did these kids get the idea that tough and foul was an ideal to strive for, and that this is the very best they could hope to be? From the same sorts of parents I hear screaming  “don’t you effingwell talk to me like that you little $%*&^# ” to their kids at the supermarket?

And then I recalled the times I’ve been on a train and surrounded by people from the Indian subcontinent, or Asian looking people whose first language is not English, when yobbos like this have climbed in, shouting and screaming and dropping empty beer or spirit mixer bottles and throwing up.
I thought about how we have an Anglo Australian culture that’s long been obsessed with alcohol. I thought about the times I’ve heard young adults describe their first taste of drugs as a rite of passage.

These are not the Australians who “built” and moulded the country I think of as mine. These are not the values I think of as Australian. But the behaviour of a great many non-Anglo Australians seems far more Australian than that of these lost kids.

We’re not too full, and there is plenty of room for more good people.

In the car park, I noticed the ute parked next to my little matchbox toy had one of those “we’re full” stickers, and for the first time I began to get an inkling of how our first peoples have felt and, for the most part, still do. And I think I need a little self inking stamp so when I see one of these stickers I can attribute the message to someone who thought of it a lot earlier. Maybe someone like Jandamarra.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

what in the name of god...

Fred Hollows is famous for his work, giving the gift of sight to people in third world communities. His foundation has continued his work long after he passed away.

Catherine Hamlin is our female Fred.

1959 she and her husband first arrived in Addis Ababa, as medical practitioners on a short term contract, but quickly realised there was an enormous problem.

Although it’s culturally acceptable in Ethiopia for girls to be married young, 14 year old female bodies are not ready for childbirth. Older women, too, are suffering from obstetric fistulae.

One of her books, Catherine’s Gift, explains how she and her husband got involved in the problem, what they found, how women are shunned and rejected because of this life-threatening problem, and what they have done and are doing about it.

They were motivated by their Christian beliefs to help, but were not remotely interested in becoming missionaries. The sole qualification for obtaining the help of this remarkable woman’s organisation is need.

Now, the mongrels who control the Australian arm of the charitable trust are telling this 88 year old saint she must screw all of the non-Christians who have supported this work.  

If Christ had stayed put in his grave, he would be turning in it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

new day

My Place, Sally Morgan’s best selling autobiography, was published in 1987. One of the things she spoke about was her grandmother’s fear of letting anyone know she was Aboriginal. The timing of this story is as interesting as the story itself, for the enquiry into the Stolen Generations did not begin until 1995.

[No, you can't really click to look inside from here... cropping the image is too complicated late at night.]
Sally is as famous for her art as for her writing, and she designed the covers of her two books. I can’t say her art appeals to me overmuch, but when I saw a print of this I had to buy it:

This painting is my ‘bible’, because it tells me all I need to know about the relationship between the mundane and the arcane, and because looking at it is my morning prayer. It’s called “New Day”.

Maybe Sally was dabbling or grappling with her newfound identity, when she painted it. Maybe it was because it reflected an “Anglo” sensibility that I felt I could understand it – it was a very long time before I discovered anything about the meaning of various traditional Aboriginal symbols.

[For more about Aboriginal art you might try here and here.]

Well, let’s face it, it was a very long time before I realised Aboriginal paintings would have meaning [how arrogant is that?].

My only excuse is that I grew up with this as an example of great Aboriginal art:

Realising that Albert Namatjira was possibly only appreciated because he painted Anglo style makes his story doubly tragic.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

on being arthured

Australia has always had its share of characters, just one of the most widely known being Arthur Malcolm Stace [1884-1967].
In 1932, inspired by a sermon he’d heard, the illiterate Arthur started walking the streets of Sydney and writing the word Eternity for everyone to see. Over the next 35 years, he and his beautiful copperplate gift became something of a Sydney icon.

this memorial is now embedded in the footpath in Sydney’s Town Hall Square 

Without chalking but definitely having walked the talk, there are many people from my past who have remained with me; voices in my memory telling me something over and over that it seems I once needed to learn and often need to consider today.

One workmate was a quiet man who usually participated in conversations by remaining silent. Occasionally, though, in appropriate places, he would say quite sincerely “Nobody’s perfect”.

Another workmate, who proved to be an enduring friend, often had cause to say “It’s not a competition, you know”.

The Other is a woman I find inspiring for many, many reasons. Just one of the things I hear her voice whisper to me throughout my day – for example while waiting on my own for a train that has not actually been cancelled – is the question:

“Are we having fun yet?”